Fair Trade Recycling

When public outcry and social awareness lead to the development of Fair Trade certification for coffee in the 1980s, Robin Ingenthron, formerly of the U.S. Peace Corps and founder of the WR3A (the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Alliance), took note of the concept – allow a system of vetting and verification for consumers in rich countries to ensure that the premium they pay for certain services or goods are being produced or conducted in a safe, socially acceptable manner.

When images of children growing up in the midst of unsafe electronics recycling operations began flooding the nation’s consciousness, Ingenthron saw an opportunity to expand the concept to areas outside agriculture. As a result, he is getting ready to launch Fair Trade Recycling, a company that ensures electronics exported to developing nations for reuse or recycling is handled properly.

“If you put a blanket ban on anything, all you’ve done is drive the industry underground,” Ingenthron says. That would exacerbate problems of unsafe working conditions, labor practices and disregard for the environment, he says.

Instead of assuming recyclers in developing nations will automatically ‘recycle’ electronics by burning plastics to get at precious metals in open fields while cooking for their families over the same fire, Ingenthron decided to see how recycling is really being carried out in places like Taiwan, China and Malaysia. What he found surprised him, and led him to create WR3A, an organization that uses market-driven solutions to address perceived problems within the electronics reuse and recycling field.

“We have been impressed by self-educated technicians, struggling to provide internet, health, education and democracy through free market and trade,” according to his organization’s website.

“Unlike stewardship programs based on “pledges”, “promises”, and “goals”, WR3A is based on civil law, or contracts.   Our members believe that contracts and lawsuits are easier to enforce than international law.  Our preference is to sign up companies already doing business under state or national contract, such as California, Massachusetts, or Maine, when the contract has environmental performance and reuse measures.  When those companies violate the contract, we can call the state Attorney General’s Office,” according to the web site. Ingenthron is a supporter of the R2 standard for electronics whose facilities are certified in Vermont.

The WR3A vets its contracting companies and that company’s downstream recyclers – companies that process materials an electronics recycler might not be able to handle in-house, like CRT glass or copper wire.

“We wanted to make the process more transparent,” Ingenthron says.

Fair Trade Recycling would mean companies looking for a market for reusable electronic products gathered in the U.S. would be able to look farther afield for end markets for their used displays, cell phones and laptops without having to fear for the safety of the environment or the workers handling the recycling and testing.

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1 Comment

  1. We are now operating plastic recyling services in Hong Kong! Great article!, nice post


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